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Water: Contaminated Sediments

National Sediment Quality Survey Database: 1980–1999

We are releasing the National Sediment Quality Survey Database: 1980 to 1999. This database was developed as part of "The Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States," which is a report to Congress that identifies areas in the United States where sediment is contaminated at levels that may adversely affect aquatic life and human health. The first National Sediment Inventory report was released in 1998 and the first update to this report is expected to be released before the end of 2001. The database being released contains only the data to be used for the report and does NOT contain any interpretations of the data or recommendations based on the data.


The EPA is preparing the first update to the 1998 report entitled The Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States. EPA prepared this report to Congress in response to requirements in the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) of 1992 which directed EPA, in consultation with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to conduct a comprehensive national survey of data about the quality of aquatic sediments in the United States. The Agency hopes to release the next Report to Congress before the end of 2001.

What does this version of the National Sediment Quality Survey Database contain?

This pre-publication database compiles information from 1980 to 1999 from more than 4.6 million analytical observations and 50,000 stations throughout the United States. The database contains information on:

  • sediment chemistry - measuring the chemical concentration of sediment-associated contaminants;
  • tissue residue - measuring chemical contaminants in the tissue of organisms, and;
  • toxicity measuring the lethal and sublethal effects of contaminants in environmental media on various test organisms.

What are the limitations of the data?

This database contains environmental monitoring data from a variety of sources. Most of the monitoring data are from state and federal monitoring programs that require documented quality assurance and quality control procedures. To be included in this database, adequate information on the data source, sampling date, analyte measured, units, and data qualifiers (e.g., "not-detected") were required. We compiled the data using a number of different sampling strategies. Component sources contain data from different spatial sampling plans, sampling methods, and analytical methods. Most of the data were compiled from nonrandom monitoring programs that focus on areas where contamination is known or suspected to occur. Care must be taken in making inferences about the overall condition of the Nation's sediment or in characterizing a "percent contamination" using this data because the data probably under-represents uncontaminated areas.

Why is EPA releasing this database before the update to "The Incidence and Severity of Sediment Contamination in Surface Waters of the United States" Report to Congress?

The EPA believes it is important to give the states, tribes, and all other interested parties the opportunity to use the data as soon as possible. We are developing the next Report to Congress using the data in this database, but the report will not be available for public review until the summer of 2001.

What software do I need to view the data on the CD?

The data on this CD are stored in a MS Access 1997 database and can be retrieved with any ODBC-compliant database software package that has the appropriate MS Access drivers.

How can I get a copy of the National Sediment Quality Survey Database — 1980 to 1999?

In addition to the CD, the database is available online.

To access the database online, you need to install Query Manager, a database program that is used to access sediment chemistry, sediment toxicity data, and tissue chemistry data from a relational database for individual watersheds. Download Query Manager and get installation instructions.

After installing Query Manager, you may access the National Sediment Inventory data, combined or by watershed. Scroll down to the bottom half of the webpage.

Limited copies of the database are available on CD. You can get a CD by contacting: Bob Shippen (shippen.robert@epa.gov), 202-566-0391.

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